TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Fourth edition September 2010
TELECOMS ‘WARS’ COME TO UGANDA TOO
Following the current fierce battle over market shares in Kenya, where the new owners of former Celtel / Zain have ‘hit the market’ with tariffs well under those of their main rivals Safaricom and Telecom here in Uganda it was Warid Telecom which triggered the latest round of movement on the price front. Last week they halved their per second call charges from 10 Uganda Shillings to 5 Uganda Shillings, across ALL networks, making it suddenly the cheapest voice operator in the market and pre-empting what many thought would be Bharti / Airtel going first.
The new owners of Celtel / Zain – now being rebranded Airtel across the region and every country Zain was present before selling to India’s market giant, have vowed to in particular target rural communities where phone penetration is still low, and intend to do this with not only low call tariffs but also subsidised, but network tied phones.
Yet, unlike in Kenya where the Communications Commission has dictated recently a set of substantially lower interconnection charges, here in Uganda the matter is pending as in particular current market leader MTN has threatened legal action against the UCC, but it is expected that the regulators’ view that they can set maximum interconnection charges will eventually prevail, as this would be the only way to have consumers and phone users benefit from the often prohibitive charges set by leading operators to prevent others offering cheaper tariffs for cross network calls.
While the struggle over voice traffic market share will undoubtedly continue to excite consumers, the next barrier would be the data cost, where a range of novelties too is said to be in the ‘pipeline’ via lower tariffs and network upgrades across the country to 3+ G systems before sometime next year the first 4G rollout, in Kenya set for the first quarter, is also to begin. Good news also for foreign visitors whose choices have grown and who can use a locally purchased Sim card to enjoy cheaper tariffs and avoid the monster charges often experienced when on roaming. Watch this space.
HOTELIERS REJECT CLAIMS THAT NAIROBI IS 8TH MOST EXPENSIVE CITY
Kenyan hoteliers have taken exception to a recent report published by Hotels.com in the UK, which claims that the Kenyan capital city has become the 8th most expensive city for hotel accommodation in the world. Reactions were swift and sharp, with some alleging that the results were flawed, an ulterior motive behind the claims aimed to de-campaign Kenya while others questioned the methods of sourcing the information.
Said one seasoned hotelier: ‘if you just look at rack rates, even then how can Nairobi be as expensive as they claim. The big global cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Rome and many others surely have more expensive rack rates than we display in Nairobi? And we deal a lot in contract rates, corporate rates, East African resident rates which are much discounted compared to rack rates. Have they even taken this into account? Have they talked to our hotel association or just had a bootlegger collect rack rates and then make such damaging claims?’
Other senior tourism gurus also pointed to the opening in recent months of several new top hotels in the city and more beds in the pipeline for opening in 2011, saying that the capacity of rooms on offer reflects the demand, and is in fact now slightly ahead of present annual demand, but also conceding that during periods of peak demand, especially when major conferences or continental meetings are ‘in town’ the rates tend to go up while for much of the year however the average rates charged were still making Nairobi an affordable destination for tourists and business travellers.
Another source pointed out that the survey by Hotels.com was distorted as they most likely last surveyed two years ago, when the hospitality sector suffered of the aftermath of the post election violence and had to use heavy discounting to attract business, while the rates have now gone back to the pre-2008 levels. Valid point but not sure Hotels.com will take heed and correct their negative story anytime soon.
WHEN 100 KENYA SHILLINGS FILLED A TANK
Last week saw the rise of the cost of one litre of petrol rise to 100 Kenya Shillings, prompting a broad increase of transportation fares for passengers and cargos across the country. Commuters using public transport are being charged more and motorists, if they can find fuel during the ongoing shortage, have to dig deep into their pockets to pay for the precious liquid, needed to keep their car engines running, getting to their places of work, dropping kids at school or taking a weekend trip to the beckoning game parks and reserves upcountry. The current high price of petrol is well nearly unprecedented in Kenya and belt tightening and fuel saving is now the order of the day, for private individuals as well as business.
Yet, this correspondent recalls his early days in Kenya when 100 Shillings back then literally filled a car tank, rising to 1.000 Shillings some 15 years later and now standing at anywhere from 4.000 to 6.000 Shillings depending on the capacity of the car’s fuel tank. For sure NOT a sign of progress…
MARA ROADS A MESS DURING RAINY SEASON
Tourism operators have voiced their anger and disappointment once again over the state of some key roads leading into the Masai Mara. In past years, at the onset of the rainy seasons, some of the roads had periodically become impassable, at one time compelling a major airlift to take visitors out of the game reserve back to Nairobi after being literally marooned at their respective lodges and tented camps due to flooded bridges and muddied roads and tracks.
However, the authorities, swift to profess their commitment to the quality of tourism were slow in making good of promises made back then, and some key roads have again turned into quagmires which even 4×4’s find difficult to negotiate and get through without sinking axle deep into the mud.
It is understood that the safari airlines like SafariLink, Fly540 and Air Kenya, amongst others, experienced a swift increase in demand to fly clients in and out of the Masai Mara, but as ‘air safari’ are more expensive and therefore out of reach of many visitors to Kenya, this solution will be limited to those who can afford it while others on the traditional ‘road safaris’ may have to put on their Wellingtons and help push their vehicle to get through flooded stretches.
Some tour operators blamed the Narok County Council for letting the roads deteriorate beyond repair, causing expensive maintenance for safari vehicles, but the council reportedly blamed central government claiming some roads were not falling under the council, believe it or not.
KENYA AIRWAYS GOES DAILY WITH B777 TO HONG KONG AND LAGOS
The Kenyan flag carrier has just announced that they will by the end of September go daily from Nairobi to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, using a B777 aircraft, a substantial boost for passenger and cargo capacity and a sign that demand from across the airline’s African network is sharply up, justifying the daily flights on the largest aircraft KQ has on the fleet.
It was also learned last week that ‘the Pride of Africa’ will, effective early October, begin to use their B777 for the flights from Nairobi to Lagos, tapping into an undoubtedly growing market potential in the Nigerian market. KQ connects Nigerians, and other West African countries, via Nairobi mainly into their destinations in the Middle East but also to the Far and South East destinations like Bangkok, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, as well as through the Nairobi hub to the entire Eastern African destination range.
Improved cargo space on the B777 has also been long awaited on the route to Nigeria as travellers in particular from and to Dubai are known to ship their ‘shopping’ on the same flight, often exceeding the already generous baggage allowance for this destination and yet happily paying for the freight charges as long as all arrives with them when the fly back home.
On a different note though it is worth pointing out that this move has been long planned according to usually reliable sources from aviation experts close to the airline, but the delayed delivery of the B787’s has thrown the proverbial spanners into the airline’s plans to expand capacity on high density routes or in fact roll out new destinations at the pace it would have been possible, all courtesy of Boeing’s delays.
Meanwhile it was also learned that Ethiopian Airlines will follow KQ’s example and add larger aircraft, once they have taken delivery of their new B777-200LR on flights to such destinations like Lagos and other of their African high density routes.
AFRAA LOOKS TO THE FUTURE
The upcoming AFRAA annual general assembly, scheduled for November 21 to 23 in Addis Ababa, has added a broadly based strategy session to their agenda. Key decision makers, experts and aviation analysts have been invited to join hands and minds while discussing the challenges African airlines have to meet in the face of growing competition by non-African airlines, the economic climate, challenges to secure financing for state of the art aircraft, the brain drain – many international airlines are aggressively recruiting pilots, technicians and other personnel trained by African carriers – and the growing demands on aviation safety and security. Issues like crumbling infrastructure at airports across Africa, a thin navigational beacon network, ATC challenges and often poor communications, and ongoing non tariff barriers amongst African countries should feature too during the talks, as will undoubtedly the ongoing bans by the EU against several African countries over safety concerns.
Air traffic across Africa has according to IATA grown on a year by year basis by well over 13 percent, seemingly impressive but yet less than the traffic growth of Dubai International Airport alone which on a year on year comparison has once again gone up by nearly 15 percent.
The cost of air travel is often cited as a constraining factor preventing many potential travellers from flying and ‘relegating’ them to busses, or where available trains, and one reason given by airlines is often the cost of regulatory charges, airport taxes, navigational, landing and parking fees, the high cost of fuel and, due to long distances, the cost of maintenance and crew training. Watch this space when the AFRAA AGA goes underway.
KQ CONCLUDES AGM, ADDRESSES DELAYED AIRCRAFT DELIVERIES
The 34th Annual General Meeting of the company last week at the Bomas of Kenya brought once again together the company’s shareholders, directors and management, plus a large contingent from the media covering the event. Main topics of discussion were financial performance and market shares, but also was the delayed delivery of ordered aircraft high on the agenda. The airline’s management was swift in re-assuring the shareholders that a decision about a viable alternative to the B787 would be made soon, so as to keep the momentum of growth going and not disrupting expansion plans and leaving market shares to KQ’s main competitors. It is noteworthy to mention here that the airline will add two more daylight flights from London to Nairobi effective end October, signalling revived demand and KQ’s intent not to leave the introduction of extra flights to other airlines flying directly between the UK and Nairobi.
It was also learned that flights to Malindi would resume as soon as an expanded runway was available, and would then likely be operated by Embraer jets. It was in the process also revealed that ongoing work at the airline’s home hub Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was expected to still last for several years, a fact which was not lost on many regular users of the airport in Nairobi where congestion continues to be the order of the day, hampering Kenya Airways’ performance on the ground due to limited facilities – something beyond their control but still a matter of great concern of course.
In a related development has Boeing resorted to getting sections of the regional media to report in a more positive light about their intention to target the African market more aggressively in the future, conveniently overlooking the fact in their PR ’advertorials’ that they are presently letting the continent’s leading airlines down by NOT delivering ordered aircraft on time and in the process also trying to evade and avoid compensation deals – a sure door opener for rival manufacturers like Airbus and Embraer. Watch this space.
KQ DISMISSES TALK ABOUT COMPETITION THREAT ON REGIONAL ROUTES
Recent suggestions in sections of the media, that other airlines plying domestic and regional routes were making inroads into Kenya Airways’ market shares, were swiftly dismissed by sources ‘in the know’. Said one regular aviation expert liaising with this correspondent: ‘Traffic volumes are generally up, tourism is booming again and business travel has completely revived. Kenya Airways’ results released last week at their annual general meeting are clear, they are increasing passenger numbers and keeping their market share, on some routes in fact doing better than before. Still, private airlines also are doing ok because of more people flying in East Africa, more visitors coming to holiday here. I think at times some in the media are submitting to wishful thinking or are influenced by other considerations when they talk about KQ this and KQ that.
Last month someone was suggesting to me that we were selling some of our shares in Precision Air because we were in urgent need of cash. But this is part of our strategic partnership and outlook, that we want the spread the shares into wider ownership and while we will re-invest the proceeds when the shares are sold, maybe some time next year when the flotation is underway, we are very liquid, even new aircraft purchases are solidly financed’.
The ‘revival’ of RwandAir, now operating 4 jets – 2 CRJ’s and 2 leased B737-500’s [to be substituted next year with brand new B737-800’s] – and Air Uganda turning the corner in Uganda and standing on a more solid foundation since reverting to their original start up strategy and bringing CRJ aircraft into their fleet while offloading their costly MD87’s, and the regional growth of Fly540 have indeed given travellers more options to fly point to point into the region and a once again expanding market makes it possible for more airlines to not just survive but actually make a success, as private Kenyan airlines like Jetlink and East African Safari Air Express prove.
Kenya Airways also has a near monopoly on premium passengers, as they are the only airline operating a business class cabin on all their aircraft, while most other airlines either operate ‘all economy’ flights or only offer a C-class on their larger aircraft as is the case with RwandAir’s B737, keeping this crucial revenue element firmly in the KQ camp too. In addition, a proactive frequent flier programme and incentive scheme for their faithful passengers also gives KQ some edge in the market, as does their range of destinations, effectively covering the region. The Juba route, where Jetlink enjoys about half of the market share as a result of flying twice a day between Nairobi and Juba, has already seen KQ’s share rise into the 30 percent margins, as in particular passengers connecting via Nairobi take advantage of through ticketing, through baggage tagging and earning valuable ‘miles’, now that the Southern Sudanese capital is at last on the KQ destination list.
Said another regular aviation source from Nairobi: ‘Kenya is a vibrant aviation market, in many respects way ahead of our neighbours. This applies to domestic operations, safari destinations and the international and regional traffic. The fact that KQ has recovered so well after two crisis years is a sign of their underlying strength and for having a good strategy. It also proves that a well managed airline business in Africa does have a future and the failures we still see are caused by political interference, grand standing, over ambition and lack of funds when the going gets tough.’ How truly spoken!
DIVERSIFICATION A MUST
Ahead of the annual world tourism day has the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism given the ‘heads up’ to efforts preserving and promoting the Amboni caves, located near Tanga along the Indian Ocean shores.
The extensive caves, first ‘protected’ in the Twenties of the last century by the then colonial government have a recorded history back into at least the 16th century of human habitation, as a place of worship and a place of hiding during the struggle for independence. In the early 1960’s, soon after independence, the caves were officially handed to a government department responsible for monuments and antiquities but were never really promoted to tourists visiting this part of the Tanzanian coast line.
A tourist board source preferring anonymity also agreed that Tanzania needs to do more to promote the ‘lesser known attractions’ more aggressively, showcasing the entire country just as much as they are presently promoting Mt. Kilimanjaro and the ‘Northern’ safari circuit of Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. ‘I think our best known parks really need very little exposure now because they are so well known, but what we need is to promote other national parks, game reserves, museums and national monuments where visitors can see artefacts related to our different cultural heritages, rock paintings, to explore caves and see rare primates for instance at Gombe Stream. Mikumi and the Selous still have a lot of space for tented camps and lodges and can receive a lot more visitors whereas the better known parks are now reaching saturation point. So in future we shall promote those much better to tell the market that there is a lot more to see than Serengeti or Ngorongoro and have visitors come back time and again exploring a different part of our country’. Could not agree more adds this correspondent.
DONT WASTE TAXES TO REVIVE ATCL
The handover ceremony last week of the 7th brand new ATR aircraft to Precision Air was graced by a number of government functionaries and key business personalities in Dar es Salaam at the Julius Nyerere International Airport. Some governmental officials, expecting to hear nothing but niceties, were said to have been less than amused when one of the speakers candidly spoke about Air Tanzania and the recent announcement in parliament that almost half a billion US Dollars would be needed to get the airline back on its feet. Efforts by government, to find a strategic investor have failed for several years now and left ATCL in a financially precarious position, creditors snapping at their heels and operationally almost disabled considering the number of serviceable aircraft they are left with. With this situation prevailing for years now it allowed Precision Air to rev up their market share and becoming Tanzania’s predominant airline in recent years.
Mr. Regnard Mengi was quoted to have asked the Tanzanian government, if not in so many words but surely by meaning, to stop pouring money into ATCL and instead support Precision Air, recognize and turn it into a de facto national airline and help it grow from strength to strength and allow it to capture more travellers coming to the country for business, safaris and beach holidays.
Major shareholders, including Kenya Airways, have resolved already to ‘float’ about 30 percent of their shares on the local stock exchange next year to promote wider Tanzanian ownership and to make it a ‘truly Tanzanian owned airline’ – something ardent supports of ATCL have in the past often questioned and used to ‘de-campaign’ Precision in the public arena. The IPO (initial public offering) on the Dar stock exchange, due to start by end December, is expected to raise at least 25 million US Dollars, according to an airline source in Dar es Salaam.
Precision Air operates the largest fleet of ATR 42 and ATR 72 aircraft in Eastern Africa, besides which they fly a B737 and although the delivery of the last of the ordered ATR’s has now been concluded it is expected that fresh announcements about bringing more aircraft to the fleet, expanding frequencies and destinations are imminent. Watch this space.
OPPOSITION AGAINST SERENGETI HIGHWAY ‘DISCONCERTING’, PROMPTS APPOINTMENT OF NEW ADVISORY TASK FORCE
Information was received from Dar es Salaam last week, that the continued growing opposition around the globe against the planned routing of a highway across the Serengeti has ‘disconcerted if not unsettled’ the powers that be who slowly seem to understand the strength of the sentiments as well as the substance of counterproposals made.
Opponents, comprising the world’s top tourism experts, environmentalists, zoologists, conservationists, zoological societies, NGO’s and tens of thousands of individuals, have not just said ‘Njet, NO, Nein, Hapana’ to the proposed road, as often alleged by hothead sycophants within the Tanzanian establishment, but have offered a viable, shorter, cheaper and more effective route around the Southern tip of the Serengeti, which would reach 2 million more Tanzanians and still meet the objective to connect the very same remote part of the country to the major urban centres.
President Kikwete has reportedly last week appointed an advisory task force, and while little is known about its composition and members, or how they were sourced, it can only be hoped that they will look at all the facts at hand and base their recommendations on the strength of logical argument and not along political considerations or out of sycophancy.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism also declined to provide the names and background of members, apparently to shield them from any lobbying or influence peddling, while critics promptly used this omission to make more noise about the appointments not being transparent, possibly driven by a desired outcome and borderline legal, as such group appointments should have been ‘gazetted’ in the national papers of record.
That all said, it seems, as suggested last week here, that there is now finally some movement over the routing of the road, undoubtedly fuelled by the stiff opposition against Tanzania from abroad and the wider region, including strong representations by the Kenyan government and the East African Community head quarters. However, inside Tanzania, while the media have thankfully picked up the story and delved a little further into it, much opposition has been effectively muzzled ahead of the upcoming elections, and individuals have openly spoken of their fear to be identified as opponents of the routing – though not the road in general – and then branded anti government and anti president with potentially very serious consequences. Watch this space as the potentially migration killing project unfolds in coming weeks.
RWANDA JOINS THE WORLD TO CELEBRATE WORLD TOURISM DAY
The Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and Conservation, together with the country’ private tourism sector celebrated the World Tourism day on the 27th of September, focusing on this year’s theme ‘Tourism and biodiversity’.
Tourism has become Rwanda’s leading foreign exchange earner and concerted efforts by government and the private sector have successfully placed ‘the land of a thousand hills’ on the global tourism map, bringing ever growing visitors numbers to the country. With sustainability however a key policy element, greater efforts are now needed to preserve and protect the natural resources, keep the environment clean of ‘tourist waste’ and tread carefully when allowing visitors into fragile ecosystems.
Rwanda has in recent years embarked on deliberate measures to re-afforest sections of the country to restore a linked forest belt, not only as part of their commitment towards maintaining biodiversity but also to allow for diversification of the tourism products from initially almost ‘purely’ gorilla tracking to a range of other activities, all well taken up by safari operators and the foundation of Rwanda’s success, doing better than some of her more ‘established’ neighbours by avoiding fragmentation of the tourism sector and ‘leading from the front’.
The World Tourism Day celebrations were held in Kigali but other events also commemorated the day at the main tourism centres in the highlands. This however will not be the end of it, as RDB – Tourism & Conservation plans to hold a series of activities, culminating according to a usually well informed source with the formal launch of the ‘forest canopy walk’ at the Nyungwe National Park in mid October.
Tourism arrivals have grown, compared to last year, by nearly 10 percent for the first six months already and earnings are equally up. Well done indeed.
COMMENDABLE HONESTY EARNS LODGE GUARD REWARD
The recently opened Nyungwe Forest Lodge had reason to celebrate when their carefully selected and well trained staff, in particular an ‘askari’ or security guard, found and immediately turned in a wallet containing over 8.000 US Dollars (eight thousand).
The guard, according to a report from the lodge, found the wallet inside the sprawling grounds and promptly went to deliver it at the reception, where the owners were identified, called and their property returned to them. The Nyungwe Forest Lodge is owned by Dubai World and this ‘PR gift’ will undoubtedly help the company to not only promote location, sights and sounds but also press home the fact that their staff are trustworthy to that extent.
Management of the lodge, as well as the owner of the wallet, expressed their gratitude to the guard and rewarded his honesty, beyond which he will undoubtedly become ‘Employee of the Month’ if not the entire year, considering the fact that he voluntarily returned 8 ‘grand’ without hesitation. Honesty pays we were taught when growing up and it is hoped that the reward by the company for the guard reflects this. And the lesson for forgetful tourists, if you really have to lose something, do it at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge where you can be assured that what is lost WILL be returned.
RWANDAIR ON COURSE TO COMPLETE IOSA CERTIFICATION
It was learned earlier in the week that RwandAir was on course to attain the important IOSA certification by IATA, as the audit was continuing to assess the airline’s compliance with safety regulations and recommendations made by leading regulatory bodies and the International Air Transport Association.
When complete, the airline will according to a regular source then also seek full membership in the global aviation body, in the process benefitting from the opportunities member airlines have in regard of interlining, code sharing and a widened base for ticket sales.
The initial time frame could not be met as several management changes since mid last year also impacted on the airline’s top management’s ability to concentrate fully on these important issues, but since the appointment of Mr. Rene Janata, who joined RwandAir from Lufthansa German Airlines, all systems were ‘go’ and the new leadership is clearly paying off for the flag carrier of Rwanda.
Passenger numbers uplifted, since the arrival of two owned CRJ jets and two leased B737-500, have also sharply improved by nearly 90 percent from last year, as the airline can now operate more flights to more destinations in the region, while added flights are already planned to expand RwandAir’s reach.
RWANDA RAILWAY UPDATE
Rwandan media last week carried a story about the planned railway link to central Tanzania, where a ‘dry port’ was to be the main terminal for the new railroad from Isaka to Kigali, and eventually on to Bujumbura and the Eastern Congo.
It is understood that the feasibility and viability studies are nearing completion, and while the outcome is not in any doubt details on the anticipated cost of construction are now awaited to tie up outstanding financing issues.
Rwanda, Burundi and the Eastern Congo presently receive all their imports by road, mostly via Uganda, and the new rail link, which would connect the Tanzanian Indian Ocean port of Dar es Salaam with the hinterland, could both speed up importation of mass goods but also substantially lower the cost of transportation from the port to the consumer markets. At the same time exports too will benefit by bringing the cost of transport to the coast down making products and produce from Rwanda more competitive in overseas markets.
The Tanzania – Rwanda/Burundi/Eastern Congo railroad development is just one in a number of such infrastructural key projects in the region, as Kenya and Ethiopia too are eyeing new standard gauge lines aimed to shift cargo and passenger traffic from the road back to the rails and lower the cost of transportation which has been rising in leaps and bounds due to the high cost of fuels in the region.
Southern Sudan News
RAILROAD FROM JUBA GETS GREEN LIGHT, RAISES FINANCE
Information was received overnight from Berlin / Germany that a conference between the New Sudan Foundation, ThyssenKrupp GfT Gleistechnik, Ayr Logistics Ltd. and MosMetrostroy has concluded a comprehensive agreement to commence construction of the proposed railroad from Juba, which according to impeccable sources will eventually connect the Southern Sudan with the Indian Ocean seaports of Mombasa and Lamu in Kenya.
The New Sudan Foundation, chaired by Dr. Costello Garang Ring Lual has since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the regime in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in January 2005 pursued this ambitious infrastructure project to link the Southern Sudan with her neighbours Uganda and Kenya. ThyssenKrupp GfT Gleistechnik, seeing the huge potential for rail traffic across Eastern Africa, backed the vision of Dr. Costello and Ayr Logistics Limited then came on board to raise the massive finance, thought to be the in the region of at least 3 billion US Dollars.
Sources from Berlin confirmed that with the required venture capital now fully underwritten and available, the parties came together for a formal meeting in the German capital to put pen to paper. Added information was also provided that Russia’s MosMetrostroy has been selected as major contractor, having extensive experience in building and rehabilitating railroads across the vast stretches of Russia, and they too will financially back the project.
Details of ground breaking will be available soon and be reported here again as breaking news, with eTN having been the first to tell the story of this planned railroad quite some time ago and now being able to bring this breaking news to its readers ahead of the world media.
In a related development it was also learned that the New Sudan Foundation, alongside the building of the railroad, will also develop complementary projects like access roads, depots, freight terminals, power stations and hotels, amongst others, along the railroad in Southern Sudan, bringing much needed extra infrastructure to the Southern Sudanese region. As previously reported the Southern Sudanese population will vote in a referendum in early January next year where they are expected to vote for independence from the North to become Africa’s youngest nation. Watch this space.
WORLD TOURISM DAY OBSERVED IN SOUTHERN SUDAN TOO
The government in Juba held a day long workshop coinciding with the World Tourism Day, aimed to discuss measures to protect and preserve forests and wildlife areas across the region and retain the rich biodiversity found in the South.
Local community leaders and administrators were targeted for participation and were given the fact and details of how their respective communities could benefit from keeping their environment clean and intact, being able to sustainably use their available resources. It was also learned that GoSS – short for Government of Southern Sudan – had adopted policies for forestry and wildlife, which were now guiding the implementation of measures for wildlife protection.
While discussing the topics, workshop participants and organizers also requested GoSS to improve communications between the centre and the ‘field’ and work on the road infrastructure across the South to be able to access protected areas by vehicle with greater ease.
SOUTHERN SUDANESE WOMAN NOW FLIES FOR ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES
Information was received over the last weekend that a Southern Sudanese lady has been employed as a pilot by Ethiopian Airlines, now flying as a First Officer, aka co-pilot on B737 aircraft. It is thought that Ms. Aluel Bol Aluenge is the first Southern Sudanese woman to accomplish qualifying as a commercial pilot holding an ATPL and then being employed by one of Africa’s leading airlines.
Ms. Aluenge has turned into a role model for young Southern Sudanese girls but was probably having an advantage growing up in the United States, where her parents resettled after being forced to flee by the aggression and oppression of the Khartoum regime’s harsh treatment of the Southern population during the years of occupation and civil war. Traditional ways of life, especially in the rural areas of Southern Sudan, continue to see less girls advance in education, and while this is gradually changing, especially in urban areas, the development of the girl child and equal opportunities of education and in professions remains a challenge both parents and community leaders need to address. Meanwhile though it is congrats to Ms. Aluenge for her achievement and giving hope and inspiration to a whole generation of young girls and young women in the Southern Sudan.
ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES INTENDS TO ADD TORONTO
The delivery of three B777-200LR aircraft between now and January 2011 and a further two such aircraft on order in the first half of 2011 will allow the Ethiopian flag carrier to begin nonstop flights to such destinations like Toronto, a destination long eyed by ET but owing to limited aircraft on the fleet until now impossible to achieve. The airline issued a statement last week that the first three B777’s will be used to replace B767 aircraft on routes to Washington and Beijing, allowing the B767 to be redeployed before eventually being phased out when the airline takes delivery of the long awaited and much overdue B787’s and several Airbus wide bodies now also on order.
Ethiopian, for long THE pan African airline, had ceded ground in recent years to an aggressive Kenya Airways, now leading in terms of African destinations albeit by a very narrow margin, but considering where KQ came from quite an achievement in its own right. Both airlines have ambitious plans to cover Africa like no other airline on the continent and connect passengers via their own hubs in Addis Ababa and Nairobi to the rest of the world, here ET having the lead as they are, unlike Kenya Airways, able to fly to the US.
Delayed wide-body aircraft deliveries however have impacted both airlines in their capacity and destination expansion and both flag carriers are working hard to overcome the challenges this problem is posing to their strategic plans. ET, according to the information received, also expects a further three brand new B737-800 to join the fleet before the end of this year, and these aircraft will be used for flights across Africa to boost frequencies and allow the addition of more African destinations. Watch this space for the most up todate aviation information from the Eastern African region.
MAJOR NEW RAILWAY LINES IN OFFING
The Ethiopian government has last week released information about plans to construct a major new rail network across the country, in the process also preparing the ground for links to neighbouring countries sooner rather than later. The Ethiopian Railway Corporation will be tasked to develop the new infrastructure which will link remote parts of Ethiopia with the capital Addis Ababa but likely also with border posts to Kenya and the South of the Sudan.
Nearly 5.000 KM of new railway lines will now have be planned, and subject to securing the funding constructed over the next few years. Neighbours Kenya and Southern Sudan are reportedly both keen to see their own new railway networks expand to the Ethiopian border and create links to Addis, facilitating the easy and cost effective movement of cargo and people and promoting regional trade and travel.
FORMER NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM MAKES IMPACT IN AUSTRALIA
A positive end is now in sight for the former Eritrean national soccer team, who defected en masse during a tournament in Nairobi at the end of last year, escaping the oppression and dictatorship of an increasingly paranoid Afwerki regime. Although denied by Eritrea’s diplomatic service the team eventually made their way, most of them anyway, to Southern Australia where they have been undergoing trials with leading clubs and playing training matches against Australian professional teams.
Latest news now indicate that the Eritreans got good reviews for their performances, inspite of some losses, and that several clubs have started making formal offers to the players after being permitted to do so by the Football Association of Southern Australia. Well done to the Eritrean boys, for seeking their freedom and for apparently being able to use their footballing skills to make a new career and life ‘down under’.
CELEBRATING WORLD TOURISM DAY WITH A RELEVANCE
The coastal management unit of the Department of Environment has concluded a yearlong pilot study coinciding with the archipelago’s celebrations of the World Tourism Day, aimed to control and manage human impact on the beaches across the Seychelles. This year’s theme ‘tourism and biodiversity’ is especially befitting for the islands, where protection of the environment and maintaining the impressive biodiversity is a credo of government, for many reasons but mainly to protect its ‘assets’ for the crucially important tourism and fishing sectors.
Coastal erosion, evident at some of the popular beaches, have of course a number of reason, including rising sea levels, but human activity continues to be the biggest threat and therefore needs special attention in order to mitigate and reverse such impact.
The involvement over the past year of local communities in the environmental protection activities too had a positive impact as creating ‘ownership’ also creates a sense of responsibility for one’s immediate neighbourhood and for instance driving on to beaches has now largely decreased, albeit supported in some places by the insertion of bollards, aiding the re-growth of vegetation along the beaches in turn supporting the retention of sand and soil. The pilot case studies were centred around the Anse Royal beach.
The Seychelles Tourist Board of course also carried out the more ‘conventional’ observation and celebrations of World Tourism Day but this correspondent was looking for some of the ‘real action on the ground’ with relevance to this year’s theme to report about.
RAFFLES SEYCHELLES TO OPEN IN A FEW MONTHS
Kingdom Hotels ‘Raffles’ brand is nearing the completion of their first resort on the Seychelles, located on the island of Praslin.
The reportedly 86 one and two bedroom luxurious villas, all overlooking the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, will have their own private little pools and enjoy the ‘Raffles Butler service’ available to guests around the clock if so desired.
A range of restaurants, bars and cocktail lounges is ready to serve the resort’s guests when the property opens its doors to the public in early 2011. Google ‘Raffles’ for more information on this luxury brand owned by Kingdom Hotels and to follow regular updates by the group towards the opening of the new resort.
SEYCHELLES PHONE NUMBERS TO CHANGE
In line with international telecommunications requirements have the four major Seychelles’ telephone companies now engaged in preparations for the adding of another digit to their phone numbers, with the exercise starting in November this year.
Regular visitors to the archipelago, and those doing business with the islands’ hotels, resorts and DMC’s should take notice of the development to be able to stay in touch when the changes have been made fully operational at the end of the three months’ changeover period.. All of the Seychelles telecom companies will during these three months period progressibely introduce 7 digit numbers, including Cables and Wireless, Airtel, Kokonet and Intelvision and eventually stop the ‘old’ six digit numbers early in the new year.
Enquire with your business partners and friends about their new numbers to ‘stay connected’.
INTER ISLAND SURF COMPETITION ATTRACTS SPECTATORS
The annual ‘cross channel’ surfing and kite surfing races between Mahe and Praslin again attracted a number of contestants. Due to less than expected winds the 2002 surfing record of just under 58 minutes was not under any threat with the winner recording a time of just over 1 hour and two minutes while in the kite surfing competition a new record was established by one of the competitors, who took just over 1 hour 22 minutes to cross between the two islands.
The event was sponsored by such illustrious companies like Helicopter Seychelles and Air Zil, Mason’s Travel, SkyChefs, Cable and Wireless and the Seychelles Yacht Club, amongst others and proved to be a great attraction for tourists holidaying on Mahe and Praslin, who cheered on the contestants.
And today once more a section of news from ‘further down South’, courtesy of The Livingstone Weekly compiled by Gill Staden:
THE ZAMBEZI REGATTA
It was a busy day for many last weekend at the Regatta. Lots of fun for those of us who just sat and watched, but endless work over weeks for those companies and people who put such an effort into the occasion. Well done to them all. But we have to say special thanks to Peter Jones from The River Club and Daan Brink from Livingstone’s Adventures.
Peter Jones is the inspiration for the Regatta, a resurgence of past regattas from the early 1900s. The modern version has been held for several years since 2004. It is a huge undertaking to bring teams from South Africa and UK … along with their boats! Peter was also the MC throughout the day.
Daan Brink, being in charge of operations, mobilised the boats of Livingstone’s Adventures – two big boats, African Queen and Princess, and all the small boats for safety and logistics and, of course, the helicopter for the film crews.
I arrived at around 10am and took a ride over to the African Queen to watch the show. All the big boats were out on the water … a cool way to watch the races – the river breeze is very refreshing. The only problem about being on the boat is that you can’t hear the commentary. So, apart from having a Programme of Events, I didn’t know who was racing or who won. But that didn’t matter too much – it is not about the winning, it is about the participating. I do hope, though, that I will be able to tell you the results next week.
Those taking part were the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Johannesburg and Cape Town – both ladies and men’s teams. Interspersed between the Eights Races, we had makora, kayak, raft and sculling races. The sculling race requires a special mention as it was the centenary of the World Professional Sculling Championships which took place in 1910.
The main fun was taking place at the Boat Club. It was here that the boats were all launched and the teams set off for their row to the starting line.
The teams from South Africa and UK have been in Livingstone for the past week. They have had time to acclimatise, practice their skills on the Zambezi, especially those required to avoid hippos, and to have some fun. They have been rafting and seeing the sights.
Many of the Zambian companies, especially those in Livingstone, have sponsored events, accommodation, trophies and logistics. I do hope the teams enjoyed their stay in Livingstone and had a safe journey home.
Elephant Orphanage, Kafue National Park
Update on Rufunsa
A five-month-old elephant calf that swam to safety through crocodile infested waters after his mother was killed for her ivory, has joined the herd at the Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) in Zambia. Little Rufunsa, who sustained slash wounds as he fled, made the incredible swim across the Luangwa River and was rescued by the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA).
“We were informed immediately and headed to Luangwa to prepare Rufunsa for his long journey back to Kafue National Park,” explains EOP Project Manager, Rachael Murton.
With the help of ZAWA, Proflight Zambia and an amazing team of local Zambians Rufunsa eventually arrived at the orphanage on September 12th and was greeted with much curiosity and affection by the other elephants.
“It’s wonderful to see Rufunsa be accepted into his new elephant family but he is still very vulnerable and has a long way to go,” says Rachael. “Not until he’s two will we be certain that he’ll make it. He needs all the care that his new family (human and elephant) can give him and we urgently need your help to support the growing herd.”
From Robin Pope Safaris, Luangwa Valley
By one of their guests
We had stopped for coffee by a small lagoon when Kiki heard some elephants in the distance. We decided to wait quietly by the water to see if they would come down to drink. Well they were thirsty so the whole family came within metres of us to have their morning drink. We were particularly amused to watch a baby which had yet to learn to use its trunk. It had to bend down and sip using his mouth. Then as the family moved off, the large bull with the group decided to have a closer look at us. He came right to the side of the vehicle and it felt like he was trying to work out what we were. Warren was looking down at his camera and Kiki nudged him to look left and he just about dropped his camera as the elephant was so close you could smell its breath. I’m afraid I was busy trying to get under the seat and my hands were shaking so much that we don’t have any photos of that big bull, but we were thankful when Kiki started the car and backed up a bit, as it was then that the ellie had his curiosity satisfied and walked away. Well we all laughed about that encounter however we were very glad that we had a guide with lots of experience who knew what to do.
The number of crocs and hippos by the Luangwa River is amazing. Whilst we were with Daudi we counted the croc and hippos we could see on an approximately 800 metre stretch of the river. There were 50 crocs and 40 hippos!!
Two Limpopo veterinarians have been arrested in connection with ‘hundreds’ of rhino poaching incidents.
The names of two veterinarians involved in the slaughter of hundreds of rhinos in South Africa have been released by the media: Dr. Karel Toet and his wife, Marisa, along with one of Toet’s partners, Dr. Manie du Plessis, were arrested along with seven others. According to South Africa’s News24, the doctors own the Nylstroom animal clinic, as well as Limpopo Wildlife, which is involved with catching and transporting game on farms.
National police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo stated that the nine suspects are believed to be the “masterminds” behind South Africa’s poaching scourge, which has claimed the lives of 210 rhinos already this year. These people were supposedly involved with killing rhinos, selling the horns and disposing of the carcasses. The investigation was reportedly carried out by the Hawks and the arrests were made by a team consisting of members from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), SANParks, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and the department of nature conservation. Last week, Tom Fourie, a well-known figure in wildlife circles in Musina, was arrested, but is already out on R2,000 bail. The nine suspects, including the Toets and Dr. Du Plessis, are apparently being held in Musina. Charges will be announced at their court appearance on Wednesday.
Three more people have been named in the recent arrest of nine rhino poaching syndicate “masterminds” responsible for killing hundreds of rhinos.
The names of three more people believed to be responsible the killing of hundreds of rhinos in South Africa have been released by the media: Dawie Groenewald and his wife Sariette, of Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris in Polokwane, and Tielman Erasmus, a professional hunter, are now behind bars and awaiting their Wednesday court appearance. Also among the nine people arrested are veterinarian Dr. Karel Toet and his wife, Marisa, along with one of Toet’s partners, Dr. Manie du Plessis. The doctors own Nylstroom animal clinic and Limpopo Wildlife, which is involved with catching and transporting game on farms.
Suspended from PHASA, banned from Zimbabwe – and arrested in the US
South Africa’s News24 noted that Groenewald is a former police official who was suspended four years ago from the Professional Hunters Association, and has apparently been banned since 2004 from hunting in Zimbabwe. It was also reported that Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris was working with Mugabe henchmen. During the height of political instability in Zimbabwe, the organisation apparently organised hunting safaris on farms and land invaded by Zanu-PF’s “war veterans”. In addition, Groenewald was arrested in the US earlier this year for his involvement with the illegal hunting of a leopard. His punishment amounted to slap on the wrist: A USD $30,000 (R228,000) fine, USD $7,500 (R57,000) in damages to the American hunter, eight days in an American jail, and two months of house arrest.
A helicopter connection
With helicopters being used in many rhino poaching cases in South Africa, it is not surprising that Groenewald is believed to be connected to a “closed corporation” which owns a Robinson R44 helicopter. The registration is ZS-HBH, according to the South African Aircraft register. The helicopter is said to be owned by Valinor Trading 142, of which his wife, Sariette, is listed as a director.
Court date set for ‘World Rhino Day’
Scheduled to appear in the Musina magistrate’s court on Wednesday, September 22, for their alleged involvement in killing hundreds of rhinos, sawing off their horns, and hiding the bodies:
- Dr. Karel Toet – Nylstroom animal clinic and Limpopo Wildlife
- Marisa Toet – Nylstroom animal clinic and Limpopo Wildlife
- Dr. Manie du Plessis – Nylstroom animal clinic
- Dawie Groenewald – Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris in Polokwane
- Sariette Groenewald – Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris in Polokwane
- Tielman Erasmus – professional hunter
Perhaps coincidentally, the September 22 court date happens to fall on World Rhino Day.